Darker Than Dementors

Part IV

A Quick Exit

They have never entered the headmaster's office with such a bad atmosphere brewing in the air, and for that the Nobodies are on their toes, prepared to walk around egg shells and land mines if necessary. They are lined up in the darkened room in front of the grand desk, just like naughty little students waiting for a scolding after being caught out after-hours. The whole room is quiet and gloomy, the only sounds being made consisting of the crackling in the fireplace, and the snoring of the portraits. Behind the desk, a very young Fawkes is dozing, his head tucked under his fire-red wing. Burning Day happened about a week ago.

Albus is standing some way in front of them, looking into a stone and silver basin that appears to be too important for general hygiene. His hands are clasped behind his back, his body still as the chill and soundlessness envelops them. Finally, he speaks.

"I knew there were something unearthly about you three," the Wizard says in a low voice, only just loud enough for the words to exist. "I felt it in the pit of my stomach, in the back of my mind… Now I know that you are not of this world at all. The way you dispatched those Death Eaters, summoned weapons from the air, brought forth twisted minions to do your bidding…" He pauses, and turns around, eyes surprisingly dark. "What are you?"

The trio says nothing, lips tightening into paled lines. They may have shown loyalty to the Wizard over the past few weeks, but the Organization comes first. It always comes first. Albus takes a few steps towards them, descending down the couple of steps to be at their level.

"Please don't make me force it out of you" he says. "I've become quite fond of you all. We should not be pulled down the level of violence." He steps in front of the men and looks at them in turn; Lexaeus to the right, Vexen to the left, then Zexion in the very middle. "You're the leader here, right?"

The boy says nothing, and doesn't even nod his head and shake it. It's obvious that he is the main goon here. He's the transfer teacher after all. He just stays in a locked stare with the Wizard, brilliant blue eyes meeting another, so similar in shade and brightness.

Calmly, Albus raises his hand and presses it against the Schemer's chest, off-centre to the left. Lexaeus and Vexen flinch, ready to pull their comrade away from the old man at the drop of a hat, but Zexion remains quite and composed. The warm hand against his torso applies a touch more pressure, searching for something under the lad's purple robes and white flesh, but finds nothing. It finally pulls back, and the fingers curl into a fist, knuckles cracking a little with the strain. Albus looks at his hand, studying it. He sighs, turning and walking back over to the desk.

"Nobodies. I should have known."

The trio's eyes widen a touch, honestly astonished by the man's words and the knowledge he seems to bare. Zexion's own hand raises and rest against his empty, hollowed-out rib cage.

"…So you have heard of our kind" he mumbles, rubbing his chest lightly. "We didn't think the word about us had travelled as far as out here."

"You are not well-known on this world. Only a select few have heard about your threat, or even about other worlds… but you don't live to be as old as me and not learn about the other worlds out there" Albus says neutrally. He sits himself down in his chair, closing his eyes and facing the Nobodies. He pressed the tips of his fingers together. "I tend not to meddle in the affairs of distant planets… but when those planets start to meddle here, I'm afraid I don't just bury my head in the sand." He narrows his eyes at them. "I must admit that you three are the first high-class Nobodies I've seen. A rarity indeed… Ah, the Organization then? I have heard of you. You must be a part of the Organization."

"You have heard quite a lot" Zexion says with nothing in his voice. Not even false flattery and hate.

Albus does not answer him properly. He just shrugs. "What business does the Organization have here, amongst the walls of Hogwarts? What is your mission?"

Lexaeus crosses his arms over his chest. "This is strictly recon" he says in his grumbling voice. "That fight with those Death Eaters had not been part of this mission."

"And when your mission is over, then what?" The Wizard sounds almost angry now. "Will you return to our masters and tell them of our weakness and our ways?"

"What we do is our own business" Vexen tells him.

Albus arches a brow. "True enough, but what happens in my school is my business." The Wizard stands and turns his back on them once more, heading over to the window. "I don't think it is right to have you here any longer."

"…We see your reasoning" Zexion says quietly, a small smile on his lips. His hands go behind his back as he walks over to the old man. "You do not wish us to stay. That is understandable." Vexen and Lexaeus watch the Schemer as he summons up his lexicon, darkness leaping from its leather cover. That private tome of his is made of nightmares. The sanest of men that have had the worst of luck to be trapped within the pages would been pushed over the edge into madness one way or another. Only the strong-willed escape, notably not as the same people as they were before going in. After thirty, forty minutes stuck in there, most kill themselves. It all depends on how sound-minded they are. For Heartless, the time is much less, having very little minds to begin with.

"If you wish for us to leave" the boy says in a friendly tone, "we will. There will be no argument, no complaints." He opens his lexicon and finds the right pages he needs without even looking at them, power bright in his eyes. "We will be gone as soon as you want, dear sir. Now why don't we just get this all sorted-"

There is a flash of light, the boy flies back across the room, howling in intense pain. Lexicon faded away, he crashes before his friends' feet, and hisses and spits curse words as he tries to kill the flames on his robes and bare hand with battering, frantic and panicked. Lexaeus comes to his aid, beating the flames with his larger, gloved hands. Vexen places his frosty hands on the boy's skin and the ice kills the fire, leaving the burns sheen with melt-water. They breathe a sigh of relieve. The Academic closes his eyes, pulling his hands away.

"Gods alive… Zexion, are you alright?"

The slate-haired boy makes a distressed noise, feeble and shock-up, only able to look at his damaged, shivering hand with disbelief. It's nothing that a hi-potion can't fix, his robes now tattered and ruined, but the speed and the power behind that spell was bone-quaking, mind-numbing even, far more dangerous than that of the fire Heartless. Hell, it was almost the likes of Axel. The Wizard didn't even raise his wand or say incendio or whatever the ruddy spell is. To Dumbledore, that was just a warning shot.

A shadow casts over the Nobodies on the floor and they look up, the Wizard's piercing, sharp irises, ancient magic blazing within them.

"Do not take me for a fool, gentlemen" Dumbledore rumbles. "…You may stay to say your goodbyes but I want you gone by tomorrow afternoon at the latest; gone for good. The Organization is not welcome on this world." He bows a little, shorted the distance between him and the three on the ground. "You may think you are powerful and mighty, but don't get cocky. We bare magic that you will never understand. We will be prepared to fight against you if you dare to return, even if it's just a courteous visit. Take this as your final warning…"

OOO

There was no arguing with Dumbledore after that. The Nobodies returned to their room and packed their bags for the next day. They had to leave soon anyway, so departing early wasn't going to hurt. Zexion swallowed down half of a hi-potion, poured the other half over his arm, and the burn disappeared into little more than a swollen heated patch, a pale pink against his white skin.

They hardly slept last night, only staying in a state of dozy limbo throughout the hours. They woke up too early and took one last walk around the castle, announcing their premature departure to members of the staff who were already awake and strolling about. They claimed that a dire occurrence has arisen back in their hometown and they urgently had to go back. They didn't come across Severus all morning. Zexion counted his blessings.

When the word of the temporary teachers' departure spread to the children, many of their classes made their best efforts to go to their classroom and wish them farewells and good luck for their journey. Honestly, the Nobodies were quite flattered with the turnout. They didn't know they made such an impression on the student body.

"We are really going to miss you, Professors" Lavender says with a sad smile, looking a little down-hearted. "Your class was the best."

"Even if Professor Read is bonkers" Ron jokes.

"You should be thankful that you don't have to live with him" Vexen smirks, amused as Zexion furrows his brow at him. The boy grumbles something under his breath, maybe a swear, then returns to shake hands with some of the students - Harry, Hermione, Neville, Lee, Angelina, one of the twins, (Fred, or was it George?) then the other.

"We will miss you all as well," Zexion sighs, a little breathless from all of the handshaking. "… I'm sure Professor Stone will come over to say goodbye too as soon as he has escaped his mob."

In a far corner of the room, Lexaeus is trapped by the young lower-school girls pooling around him, waist-deep in black robes. The man is smiling warmly down at them all, exchanging many embraces and having to wipe the odd tear from a soft cheek now and again. They are all talking at once; some saying heartbreaking farewells, some pleading and begging with him to not leave them like this so soon, if not at all, with their voices stressed and a couple chocking with sobs.

"We are going to miss you sooo much, Professor."

"Please don't go."

"We want to stay here at Hogwarts."

"You can have Snape's job. No one would mind and you'll be great at it."

"I'm very honoured by all of this" Lexaeus chuckles. "Really I am, but I don't deserve it. I'm sure you will have more brilliant teachers in the future who will be far better than me."

"No, they won't!"

"We like you."

"Will you see you again?"

"That is always a possibility" Lexaeus lies kindly. "We will just have to wait and see."

Feeling something soft wrap around his neck, Lexaeus stiffens out of reaction but relaxes when he sees it is just a Gryffindor house scarf.

"This is for you," Ginny grins from over his shoulder, adjusting the material. "It's a little farewell gift." Lexaeus smiles again, the effort almost hurting his craggy features since he hardly ever smiles like this.

"Thank you, Ginny" he says, completely honest with his words as he makes the scarf a little less tight. "This is very much appreciated."

Through all the pleasant chaos, Vexen spots a blonde-haired figure stroll by the door, not even glancing into the classroom to see what is happening. The man gets up.

"I'll be back in a moment." He half-walks, half-runs out of there, thankful that his target hasn't gone too far away. "Luna!"

Luna pauses and looks around, smiling at the man. "Hello, Professor."

"Did you not want to say goodbye?" Vexen asks, not upset by not even receiving an informal "see you around" but curious to why the girl didn't pay a visit.

"You looked busy with everyone else" Luna shrugs. "I didn't want to intrude."

"Nonsense." Vexen shakes his head, waving his hand as if to dismiss the idiotic idea. "It would have need nice to see you once least time actually."

Luna smiles at the words. "Well, we are here now. I might as well say goodbye while I have the chance." She extends a hand. "It was nice meeting you, Professor Frost. You are a very interesting man, half-banshee or not."

Vexen feels his left eye twitch at the banshee comment but he takes her hand into his anyway.

"You are a very interesting person too, Luna… maybe a little too interesting."

OOO

They walk for a while, until they lose track of time and where they are all together. They wait until they were miles away from school buildings and are hidden deep in the shadows of the forest before they stop. They sit around on old boulders or on the overgrown roots of trees, not looking at each other. They look at nothing in particular: Zexion towards the floor, Lexaeus straight forward and Vexen skyward. More minutes slip by, almost a half-an-hours' worth, before someone speaks.

"…Do you think," Vexen mutters, "that there was any truth behind Dumbledore's words?"

"I know a liar when I see one" Zexion tells him, lifting his head a touch. "Aldus Dumbledore does not fall under that category."

"So if we came back again with deadly attentions, will you think they will ready and fight back?"

"I don't know about ready but they will fight back… and they may be our equals. Maybe they are even more powerful than the Organization. They are large by numbers anyway."

"But we have the lesser Nobodies."

"True, but they are weak." Zexion brings his knees to his chest, embracing them with a sigh. "I don't know what we such do."

Vexen shakes his head. He doesn't know what they should do either. Lexaeus shifts his weight slightly, running his fingers through his curly hair.

"Maybe it's not just the threat of retaliation that is making us stop and think" he muses. His comrades blink at him. "Maybe," he continues, "it's the bond we have form with this place that is confusing us."

IV and VI widen their eyes at the Hero. What was he talking about? What bond? They are Nobodies; the creatures who exist without hearts, without emotion, were nothing but shallow beings. They should feel nothing for some children they hardly know. This whole idea is making them uncomfortable.

"…So what are you saying?" Vexen quires. "We have developed a conscience and morels because of these people?"

"Not a conscience" Lexaeus says with a shake of his head. "We are people without hearts. For us to develop a conscience will be bending nature to the extreme..." He looks down and his hand touches the gold and crimson scarf around his neck, keeping him warm from the brisk breeze. He smiles. "But we can develop attachments. Our relationships with the students have affected us. We had taken on fake lives for this mission, but they became part of those lives as time has gone on. We changed somewhat. Do you understand?"

It takes a while for the earth-worker's words to sink in. The wind wipes up leaves and dust on the forest floor. The birds overhead tweet and chatter to one another. The Nobodies smile.

"And here we though this mission was a good idea" Vexen smirks.

"Well, gentlemen, it was fun while it lasted." Zexion stands up, pulling at his colourful robes around him as he thought. "However, I do believe we have overstayed our welcome."

"What about the Superior? What do we tell him?"

"We will just convince him that this world has no greater value then the next humdrum place. We are trusted, being founding members, and he will believe us. Then we will return to our normal routines and schedules. We will keep these memories to ourselves."

"That sounds very doable" Lexaeus sighs. He stands straight and shrugs his luggage bag over his broad shoulder. "I was starting to feel a little homesick anyway. It will be nice to see the others again."

"Some more than other if you ask me" Vexen says gruffly, throwing some ash-blond hair over his own shoulder. "Shall we be off then?" He raises a single hand in the air and opens a dark portal out of nothing. The darkness dances at the air, making a calm whooshing noise like the waves of the sea, or maybe like those of the school's lake. The scientist leans down to retrieve his bag.

"Vexen?"

The ice mage looks up, seeing Zexion and Lexaeus staring down at him.

"Yes?"

"The report" Zexion says. "What will you do to it?"

"Ah. You have a valid point." From his bag, Vexen pulls out a bundle of dog-eared parchment tied up with string, covered in last-minute notes. Not the most attractive piece of text, but it was hefty. Slowly, creeping along from his fingertips, a thick layer of icy frost covers the yellowing paper, turning its colour a whole new colour. White swirls cross the scribbled penmanship, until the whole surface of the paper is crackling with the pressure of the cold encasing. Then Vexen just throws it against the ground with a florist wave of his hand, making it smash into many splinters, crushing with a sound akin to glass shattering. It makes a pretty, shimmering mess on the ground.

"I'm sorry, Vexen" Lexaeus sighs. "This seems like a waste after all that work you did."

"It's nothing. Although the children were interesting, there was nothing great to up into the report," the Academic shrugs. He steps on some of the ice shards, mashing them into the dirt. "It was mostly waffle and padding. I have something much more amazing to take back to Never Was anyway."

"You do?"

"I should say so!" With a devious schoolboy grin, Vexen opens up his bag and pulls out a small, bulging sack. The ratters and rustles with all the wrappers and little boxes inside. "I visited Honeydukes during the week. I want to know what the Wizards make their candy from. It may prove to be a series of fascinating experiments."

"So you bought half of their stock?" Zexion asks with amusement, putting his hands on his hips. "You are like a child, Vexen."

The man furrows his brow.

"Just for that, you can't have any left-over subjects" he huffs, before pulling out an acid pop and shoving it into his own mouth. With his travel bag on one shoulder and his sweetie bag over the other, Vexen strides into the shadows portal and disappears onto the other side, looking a lot like a bad Christmas elf having stolen Santa's bag.

Zexion laughs, shaking his head. "I think we will be hearing a few explosions from the labs for the next couple of weeks." He looks up at Lexaeus by his side, smiling fondly. "What about you, dear V? Are you going to miss your flocks of tiny fellows?"

Lexaeus chuckles softly at the joke, the sound grumbling low in his throat. He pulls his gift scarf a little tighter around his neck.

"I think I have been blessed with all the attention and affection a man deserves in his whole lifetime in just these few short weeks" he says. "I've been spoilt enough."

"No need for you to get big-headed" Zexion teases. "That's the last thing we need."

Lexaeus laughs again and takes a few steps towards the portal, but then he pauses, thinking. He turns back around to face his young friend.

"Maybe it is for the best to leave" he sighs. "I know it had been upsetting for those poor girls to see me go but if they ever found out I was a being of darkness and could not love them in return, it might have broken their little hearts to despair."

Zexion nods his head slowly. "Yes. We should leave all the children with a good impression. Leave them something they will enjoy to remember, rather have them look back on us with hate and anger."

Content with the Schemer's words, Lexaeus makes an understanding noise and walk on through the portal, his form lost in the black. Zexion stands in the wood alone for a little while longer, listening to the wind and the creaking of the trees, the melody of the birds. He can smell firewood and roast boar: the kitchens are preparing for tonight's dinner.

"Yes…" Zexion smiles slightly, "maybe it is for the best." He turns around and faces the direction of Hogwarts. He could just see it standing out in the hollows of the mountains, hiding, protecting itself. "I have a feeling they will be facing their own pains and problems soon anyway."

He steps through the portal and it closes behind him, swallowing itself into oblivion. It is as if they were never there, save from the footsteps in the dirt and icy-and-paper sludge melting into the dust, but that will be gone by evening's end. The wind keeps blowing. The leaves keep dancing. In the distance, the Whomping Willow keeps groaning with the birdsong.


I plan on writing a small follow-up of this story in the form of a one-shot called "The Honeydukes Heist". You can all guess what that will be about. If you like this story, please look out for that one.